article

Get Into High Gear

Posted: 3/2004

Get Into High
Gear

VoIP Calls for New Provisioning Processes

By Khali Henderson

As service providers launch VoIP services and anticipate quickly growing numbers of converts, they are seeking new
automated processes and tools to provision services. In turn, back-office
vendors are seeking to fill the void.


There are several differences between provisioning TDM voice and
VoIP that complicate the service-activation process, making manual procedures
unscalable. Its very hard to implement a provisioning system once youve
started with manual processes, says Derek Bell, senior product manager for OSS
vendor Syndesis Inc., which claims to be working with two Tier 1 carriers
offering VoIP and plans to release its VoIP provisioning software, NetProvision
VoIP, in second quarter. For customers we are working with now, thats one of
their key considerations. They want to get systems in place before the demand
hits.


Indeed, a January survey of 3,300 households by Parks Associates
shows one-half of all Internet households are interested in VoIP
services. Meanwhile, a December 2003 Gartner Inc. study projects the
businessfocused IP Centrex market to grow by more than five times over the next
two years.


With such VoIP services, subscriber activation changes
significantly on a few fronts, says David Sharpley, senior vice president of
marketing for OSS vendor MetaSolv Software Inc., which offers the VoIP-capable
MetaSolv ASAP provisioning tool. One is its no longer simply equipment related
or physically related; you are now actually activating subscribers with logical
attributes and particular IP addresses.


Very simply, an IP address needs to be linked to an IP phone as
opposed to a phone number in a switch, explains Tom Sinatra, vice president of
integrated software products for Vero Systems Inc. The company rolled out its
VoIP provisioning system called ViewPoint in July 2003. ViewPoint is being used
by Cablevision for its VoIP offering. So when someone has one of these [IP
phones] installed in their house and you know the gateway name and can give it
an IP address, you can create a circuit and associate a phone number to it. When
someone dials a phone number, it goes to the softswitch, which knows it
correlates to this IP address, which correlates to this circuit and rings this
phone.


Just allocating IP addresses can be a cumbersome change from the
TDM routine, requiring a system for exhaustion, deletion and re-allocation, says
Syndesis Bell. This can be important if you need a subnet, or a range of IP
addresses in a cluster.


Another difference in the VoIP provisioning process is the need
to allocate a data circuit instead of a voice circuit. So [service providers]
need to figure out what is the data equivalent that can handle the number of
calls they [the end users] are looking for, says Bell, explaining that instead
of just ordering a T1, they have to order and ATM PVC or Ethernet connection but
first determine the right size pipe for the projected usage level. For many
service providers and unregulated telco subsidiaries, this requires coordination
with other carriers, complicating the provisioning process.

Once the circuit is created, you can program the line side. This
includes not only associating the telephone number with the gateway and the
circuit, but also specifying features like traditional CLASS features such as
call waiting, call forwarding, etc. Bell adds for commercial customers, the
provisioning process also must specify the dialing plan (dial 8 or 9 for an
outside line) and number of digits in the extensions.

If E911 is enabled for primary line service, then the
appropriate public service access point also needs to be specified so that such
calls are routed to the local dispatch center.

Then there is a CPE dimension to the provisioning process that
also is new with VoIP. You can go to a store and buy a telephone and plug it
into a wall jack and have phone service turned on over a normal POTS service and
the phones are all basically the same; they all work over that network, says
Sinatra. On the cable side, you have a specific cable modem [IP] phone that
works with their network. That new phone becomes your node just like your
telephone becomes your node in the old system. That node has an ID to it that needs to be tied to the switch so
that when the phone number is dialed in and routed that it correlates to that
particular gateway that you have at your house.

Additionally, says Bell, you have to know what codecs
(compression algorithms) are being used so that the phones can talk to the
network. The other new aspect of this provisioning flow is we are also being
asked to configure the phones themselves, he says. What we do is push [the
initial configuration] down to a database and when the phone comes online and is
plugged into the network, the first thing it does is go and get its initial
configuration and then its ready to be connected to all the appropriate servers
for being able to make and take calls.

A quality-of-service mechanism also is key, says Sharpley. IP
by definition is a shared infrastructure, he says. How do you make sure the
voice gets the proper classification and prioritization across the network so
that the customers see the same quality they have in the circuit
environment?

MetaSolvs Service Activator allows for traffic engineering in
the core. It sets policies that interface with network elements to
prioritize and queue voice traffic appropriately. We would model that in our
product across all the different devices and provide the label-switched paths
through the network to make sure that the traffic is engineered effectively and
queue it along the path, he says.

From a workflow standpoint, provisioning VoIP is not that
different from TDM, notes Bell. The only thing different here are the sets of
information you need to provide or where you need to get it from. Before, in the traditional services, you just provisioned a
class 5 switch and you didnt worry about anything else. Here you have to worry
about the connection coming in, the phone types and the various pieces of
equipment, he says.

This brings up another critical difference in the provisioning
process. While traditional TDM voice services are activated down to a class 5
circuit-based switch, with VoIP, Sharpley says, service providers have to
propagate information into call servers, into line gateways, potentially into
the packet-to-voice gateways if you want to bridge out to the PSTN as well as
media servers if you wanted streaming media or data services.

Basically, this requires a single order to be translated into
multiple activation requests. Thats where MetaSolv, Syndesis, Vero Systems and
other OSS vendors come in. Their systems take the requests and map them to the
network.

Further complicating this process is different vendor interface
requirements. More or less, we have to write code for each one, says Bell,
explaining that routing translations and the way they set up customer records
and dial plans, etc., can be different among vendors. However, he says, the IP
domain offers some shortcuts with programmatic interfaces that are better
designed for machine-to-machine interaction than are command line
interfaces.

For its part, MetaSolv has written a library of productized
cartridges for major vendors equipment for its TDM services that are now being
expanded to cover VoIP solutions, says Sharpley.

He adds that MetaSolv ASAP is a single tool. So, not only can
we activate the IP capability, but we can also go and activate the [circuit]
switch as well. It allows operators to seamlessly migrate from a circuit
environment to a packet environment to activate those subscriber services, he
says, noting this also insulates upstream systems like billing and CRM from
whats happening in the network.

Similarly, Syndesis NetProvision IP is an extension of its core
provisioning platform. Vero Systems ViewPoint presently works in tandem with
its TDM provisioning system, Macstar. The company is planning to migrate
Macstars advanced features to its IP software. For example, IP Centrex support
is planned for mid-summer, Sinatra says.

Besides taking orders and activating the switch, we can enable
self-service, says Dominick Calabrese, director of business development for Vero
Systems.

This is a fairly straightforward value proposition for service
providers serving low-margin residential users, but will become increasingly
important as a value-added service for providers serving enterprises, he says.
If a large Centrex customer moves to VoIP, they are going to want that ability
to do adds, moves and changes on their own, he says.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The ID is: 70030